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Heart Attacks Increase in Women, Elderly


WebMD Health News

March 7, 2002 -- Women, take note: you are not immune to getting heart attacks. A new study shows a disturbing trend: women, especially those over the age of 75, are having more heart attacks and dying from them than men.

"A quarter century ago heart disease was seen as primarily a men's disease," says Veronique Roger, MD, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist (a heart specialist) and lead researcher of the study. "Given the trends observed in this study, that is clearly not the case now. The burden of heart disease is shifting toward women and older persons."

Heart attacks in women increased by 36% during the 1980s and early 1990s, a time when heart attacks among men declined by 8%, according to findings of a Mayo Clinic study published in the March 5 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

And while heart attack survival decreased in young people, it remained essentially the same for people over age 75.

The researchers examined heart attack trends among all adult age groups from 1979 to 1994. Few previous population-based studies have included persons older than 74 years

Although they found a dramatic decrease in heart attacks in men, the news wasn't so good for women or the elderly. Heart attack rates among 40-year-old men decreased by nearly one-third, but rates for women older than 80 increased almost 50%.

Many factors are likely involved in the shift. "More cigarette smoking among women is undoubtedly a factor," says Roger in a news release. "With more women entering the workforce, less time for a healthy lifestyle may also play a part. A third factor may be that prevention efforts have typically been targeted at middle-aged men because they were seen as the prime candidates for heart attack."

Roger says the success of these prevention efforts for younger men is a hopeful sign for women and the elderly. "The good news is those efforts targeted at middle-aged men are paying off in reduced heart attack rates. They are working. This study suggests that we need to invest the same energy in prevention programs for women and older persons."

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